Packaging and Food Safety

Proper packaging protects your food product from physical damage and chemical and microbiological contamination. Packaging is essential for preserving food quality, minimising food waste and reducing preservatives used in food. If your products are not packaged properly, the packaging process can become a source of contamination or compromise.

Packaging types

  • Primary packaging is the main package that holds the food product that is seen at the point of sale.
  • Secondary packaging combines the primary packages into one container (ex: cardboard box with a number of identical products inside).
  • Tertiary packaging combines all of the secondary packages into one pallet or container to allow easier shipping, warehousing and transportation.

When developing a food safety program, all these types of packaging need to be considered in your hazard analysis under your HACCP plan.

Purpose of food packaging

  • protection:
    • biological hazards (PDF 375 KB) (ex: pathogens and spoilage organisms)
    • pests (PDF 363 KB)
    • physical damage (ex: shock or vibrations)
    • barrier (ex: oxygen, moisture, light, etc.)
    • storage, handling and shipping
  • security:
    • tamper resistance
    • counterfeit (ex: authentication seals)
    • product tracking and tracing
  • consumer information included on label :
    • ingredients list
    • allergen content
    • manufacturer
    • nutritional information
    • best before or manufactured date
  • container for transport

How to select the proper packaging

It is recommended that you buy your packaging materials from a reputable source. Packaging could be identified as a potential hazard in investigations into product safety or defects. Appropriate packaging material should be chosen based on the composition of the food. Using proper packaging will ensure the best protection and durability during the product's entire shelf life.

Common food product considerations when selecting packaging materials:

  • wet or dry
  • acidic or alkaline
  • alcohol content
  • fat content

A container that is appropriate for one of the above types of food may not be suitable for another. It's important to talk to your supplier to find the proper packaging for your food product.

Food safety and packaging standards

Food Safety Management Systems (ex: ISO 22000 , or the Global BRC / IOP category B food contact standard for food packaging and other packaging materials) have been developed to ensure the safe and hygienic manufacturing of packaging that comes into contact with food. These standards are being adopted worldwide by packaging manufacturers to help improve their manufacturing facilities and ensure the best quality and hygienically manufactured packaging is available. IFS PACsecure provides HACCP based food safety for packaging material guidelines to food producers/packagers.

Food packaging regulations

It is the responsibility of food processors to meet these requirements: Safety of all food packaging materials is controlled under Division 23 of the Food and Drugs Act and Regulations Section B.23.001

Food and Drugs Act (PDF 363 KB), Food and Drug Regulations (PDF 4.9 MB), Division 23: Section B.23.0001 (PDF 4.9 MB) (Page 734)

How to select a packaging supplier

It is good practice to do a Supplier Evaluation on prospective suppliers when you buy your packaging. Address these questions:

  • Does your supplier have a food safety system in place (ex: HACCP)?
  • Are all raw, base materials suitable for direct or indirect use and do they comply with regulations?
  • Do the adhesives and inks use or contain harmful or toxic materials?
  • Can the packaging leach (ex: harmful chemicals or moisture) that can compromise the final product?
  • Have you received documentation (ex: Certificate of Analysis (COA), Certificate of Conformance (COC), Letters of Guarantee (LOG))?

Other packaging considerations

Identify and control critical packaging factors, including:

  • material composition (ex: food grade, compatibility with your food)
  • seals (gases and liquids)
    • leak tests
  • gas mixture and flushing times
    • non toxic
  • inks and adhesives
    • food grade
    • migration into packaging or food
  • labelling
    • meet Canadian and/or export market regulations

Recalls: packaging as an ingredient

Packaging is to be treated as an ingredient in your food safety program including traceability. By including packaging materials as an ingredient, you can trace defective material back to the manufacturers' lot codes. These codes can help you trace and recall products faster and more efficiently. If a recall occurs, records and a recall program will help you quickly manage a recall of any questionable manufactured product from the marketplace.

CFIA Recall Procedure: A guide for food businesses

Related links

For more information, email the Food Safety and Inspection Branch or call 204-795-8418 in Winnipeg.